Most of the time, Windows Update does its job with little or no attention from us.
Although we manually check and install updates from time to time, most Windows 10 computers are set to apply critical updates automatically, while older versions like Windows 7 and Windows 8 typically apply these patches.
However, sometimes when the patch or maybe even the service pack is installed during shutdown or startup, the update installation hangs: it freezes, hangs, stops, hangs, clocks, whatever you want to call it. Windows Update takes forever and something clearly needs to be done.
The installation of one or more Windows updates is likely stuck or frozen if you see one of the following messages for an extended period of time:
- Prepare Windows setup. / Don’t turn off your computer.
- Configuring Windows updates / x% done / Do not turn off your computer.
- Please do not switch off your device and do not disconnect it from the power supply. / Install update x of x…
- Working on updates / x% done / Don’t turn off your computer
- Leave PC on until completion / install update x of x…
- Prepare Windows / Don’t turn off your computer
You can also see Step 1 of 1 or Step 1 of 3or a similar message before the second example. Occasionally Start anew that’s all you will see on the screen. There may also be some wording differences depending on the version of Windows you are using.
If you don’t see anything on the screen at all, especially if you think the updates have installed completely but could be the cause of what you’re experiencing, see our How to fix problems caused by the Windows updates tutorial caused.
Cause of a frozen or stuck Windows update
There are several reasons why the installation or completion of one or more Windows updates can be delayed.
Most of the time, this type of problem is caused by a software conflict or a pre-existing problem that simply wasn’t brought to light before Windows updates started installing. Much less often they are caused by a bug by Microsoft regarding the update itself, but it does happen.
All Microsoft operating systems can experience freezing issues during Windows updates including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP and others.
There is a real issue with Windows that can cause Windows Update installations to freeze in this way, but it only applies to Windows Vista and only if SP1 hasn’t already been installed. If your computer fits this description, install Windows Vista SP1 or later to resolve the issue.
Make sure updates are effectively blocked
Some Windows updates may take a few minutes or more to configure or install. So you need to make sure updates are really blocked before proceeding. If you’re trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist, you might just be creating a problem.
You can tell if Windows updates are stuck if nothing happens on the screen for 3 hours or more. After all this time, if there’s anything you’re wondering about, look at your hard drive’s activity monitor. You will either see no activity (blocked) or very regular but very brief flashes of light (unblocked).
There’s a good chance updates will pause before the 3-hour delay, but that’s a reasonable delay and longer than we’ve ever seen for a Windows update.
- To press Ctrl+Alt+Del. In some situations, the Windows update may get stuck at a very specific part of the installation process and you may get your Windows logon screen after performing the Ctrl+Alt+Del keyboard command.
In this case, log in as usual and wait until the updates continue to install successfully.
If your computer restarts after Ctrl+Alt+Del, see the second note in step 2 below. If nothing happens (which is most likely), continue to step 2.
- Restart your computer by using the reset button or turning it off and on with the power button. Windows starts normally and finishes installing updates.
If the Windows update installation is really frozen, you have no choice but to perform a hard reboot.
Depending on your Windows and BIOS/UEFI configuration, you might have to press and hold the power button for a few seconds before the computer shuts down. For a tablet or laptop, the battery may need to be removed.
If you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 8 and are redirected to the login screen after restarting, try tapping or clicking and selecting the power icon in the bottom right Update and reboot when available.
If you automatically go to the Advanced Boot Options or Boot Settings menu after the restart, select Risk-free mode and see comments in step 3 below.
- Start Windows in Safe Mode. This special Windows diagnostic mode only loads the minimal drivers and services that Windows absolutely needs. So if another program or service conflicts with one of the Windows updates, the installation can be completed without any problems.
If Windows updates install successfully and you continue in Safe Mode, simply reboot from there to enter Windows normally.
- Perform a system restore to undo the changes previously made due to the incomplete installation of Windows updates.
Since you cannot access Windows normally, try this in Safe Mode. See the link in step 3 if you’re not sure how to boot into safe mode.
When restoring the system, be sure to select the restore point that was created by Windows just before the update was installed.
Assuming a restore point was created and the system restore was successful, your computer should be back to the state it was in before the updates began. If this problem started appearing after the automatic update, such as on Patch Tuesday, make sure you change Windows Update settings so that this problem doesn’t come back on its own.
- If you cannot access Safe Mode or restore from Safe Mode failed, try System Restore via Advanced Boot Options (Windows 10 and 8) or System Restore Options (Windows 7 and Vista).
Because these tool menus are available “outside” Windows, you can try them even when Windows is completely unavailable.
System Restore is only available outside of Windows if you’re using Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Vista. This option is not available on Windows XP.
- Start your computer’s “automatic” repair process. While a system restore is a more direct way to undo changes, a more thorough repair process is sometimes required in this case of a Windows update.
- Test your computer’s memory. It is possible for a RAM error to cause patch installations to freeze. Luckily, memory is really easy to test.
- BIOS update. An outdated BIOS is not a common cause of this problem, but it is possible.
If one or more of the updates Windows is trying to install is related to how Windows works with your motherboard or other built-in hardware, a BIOS update may fix the problem.
- Perform a clean installation of Windows. A clean install completely erases the hard drive on which Windows is installed and installs Windows from scratch on the same hard drive. Of course, you don’t want to do this if you don’t have to, but it’s a very likely fix if the previous steps failed.
It might seem likely that reinstalling Windows and then doing the same Windows updates would cause the same problem, but that’s usually not the case. Since most blocking issues caused by Microsoft updates are actually software conflicts, reinstalling Windows followed by immediately installing all available updates usually results in a perfectly working computer.
Are you still having trouble with Windows Update crashing or freezing?
If updates get stuck during installation or right after Patch Tuesday (the second Tuesday of the month), see our Latest Patch Tuesdays article to learn more about those specific patches.